Aromas of damp wood, mushroom, pepper and raw game meat lead to a light palate with flavours of forest floor soil and prune….sound delicious? How about aromas of petrol, candle wax, celery and crushed rocks with flavours of rubber and lemon oil. Old wine is not for everyone. What the above tasting note fails to deliver is the true magic of old wine, the entire experience. The notes from the wines above were actually from 2 very memorable tasting experiences, a 1980 Porta Dos Cavaleiros Dao and a 1999 Chateau Musar Blanc. Sometimes a wine is delicious for reasons other than tasting of freshly picked berries of the sweet taste of vanilla from oak barrels.
When we first start putting together our wine cellars, we envision pulling wines from their long repose, perfect aged and now blossomed into the most delicious drink ever created. The reality can be a little different than that experience. I remember splurging for an older bottle for a special occasion soon after starting my own cellar, a 1985 Mas de Daumas Gassac, a wine with a reputation that carried a relatively fair price. I popped the cork, poured a glass and proceeded to feel ripped off completely. Did I get a bad bottle? Was it stored poorly? I found the wine to be an ok drink, but it didn’t change my life the way I expected it to.
The reality is that old wine throws some weird flavours at us, and the magic comes from not just the uniqueness of those weird flavours and textures, which cannot be duplicated in any other beverage, but also from the story that inevitably comes from a bottle carefully treasured over time. If I started my cellar in 1989, and the Gassac was an early purchase I would likely have enjoyed it more in 2002. Instead of heaping gobs of expectation on the fragile wine in my glass, I would have saluted its life, and swirled my glass slowly, reflecting on the years of my own life since 1985.
A wine bottle’s secret weapon is it’s ability to mark the moments of our life when we drink it. Drinking old wine, as weird as it tastes, trains us to associate those aromas with the moment when the wine was consumed. If you find you don’t enjoy old wine at your first go, you may be surprised when several years later you remember that experience with crystalline clarity, and in hindsight that bottle left its mark in ways you didn’t anticipate. It is for this reason that we labouriously collect and catalogue our cellars, chasing the next experience that promises to be even more interesting than the one before it.